Friday, May 17, 2013

Whaddya Know?

Grace is more perfect than nature, and, therefore, does not fail in those things wherein man can be perfected by nature. Now, when a man, by his natural reason, assents by his intellect to some truth, he is perfected in two ways in respect of that truth: first, because he grasps it; secondly, because he forms a sure judgment on it.

Accordingly, two things are requisite in order that the human intellect may perfectly assent to the truth of the faith: one of these is that he should have a sound grasp of the things that are proposed to be believed, and this pertains to the gift of understanding, as stated above (Question [8], Article [6]): while the other is that he should have a sure and right judgment on them, so as to discern what is to be believed, from what is not to be believed, and for this the gift of knowledge is required…

Since the word knowledge implies certitude of judgment as stated above (Article [1]), if this certitude of the judgment is derived from the highest cause, the knowledge has a special name, which is wisdom: for a wise man in any branch of knowledge is one who knows the highest cause of that kind of knowledge, and is able to judge of all matters by that cause: and a wise man "absolutely," is one who knows the cause which is absolutely highest, namely God. 

Hence the knowledge of Divine things is called "wisdom," while the knowledge of human things is called "knowledge," this being the common name denoting certitude of judgment, and appropriated to the judgment which is formed through second causes. Accordingly, if we take knowledge in this way, it is a distinct gift from the gift of wisdom, so that the gift of knowledge is only about human or created things.
St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II.II.9.1,2

Reflection – OK, so now we move into the strictly intellectual gifts of the Spirit, the gifts given us by God that perfect our minds and make us, as much as is possible in our current state of affairs, sharers in the divine intellect, the mind of God.

Well, that’s a mouthful, isn’t it! I suppose a good starting point for our reflection, before I talk about the specific gift of knowledge, is to ask if we really believe that. Do you know that in your baptism you are given the capacity to share in God’s knowledge of all things, including His own knowledge of Himself? True, in our current state of pilgrimage, this knowledge is imperfect, and even in heaven we will not fully penetrate the mysteries of God, since He is infinite and we are finite. But… really. God desires to share His truth with us, and the work of the Holy Spirit is not only that we love as God loves (which I think we all get, even if it is a daunting prospect), but that we know as God knows.

I do realize that there are formidable obstacles today to really getting this. In a world of relativism and post-modernity, where it is axiomatic that any one person only possesses a fragment of the truth at best, it seems the height of arrogance if not madness to claim to know God’s truth about things. Certainly examples are rife of people claiming knowledge of the divine mind as an excuse for violence, hatred, bigotry, terrorism, and a host of other sins both petty and grave.

Of course we have to have the whole picture. The Spirit’s intellectual gifts are one with His affective gifts. In other words, we know the divine truth so as to love with the divine love. Truth without love is a travesty. And if we can turn from our poor human experience where loveless truth is all too often used as a club to beat others with, we can see from the divine perspective that He surely must want to share His truth with us, since He loves us, and when you love, you give good gifts to your beloved. Truth is the good of the mind; God surely wants us to have it in full.

And so we have three gifts: knowledge, understanding, wisdom. Knowledge, in Aquinas’ account of it, is sure judgment regarding the truth of created things. What they are, what their goodness is, and their relative place in God’s plan. Knowledge (which is not our modern sense of scientific data) teaches us to authentically love and cherish creation, like St. Francis of Assisi or indeed like St. Thomas Aquinas, and also to be detached and free of it, as we know its relative value to the uncreated good.

Francis, with his poverty and his delight in the beauty of the earth, is the patron saint, if you will, for the gift of knowledge. Because he saw all God has made so clearly, in the light of the Spirit, He could rejoice in it, and turn his whole being towards God in radical poverty and dispossession. That is knowledge in action, and that is the gift God wants to give each of us in his Pentecostal outpouring.

P.S. Amusingly, as I am typing these words about the beauty, etc., of the earth, Combermere seems to have experienced a small earthquake! God is funny.


  1. Father Denis,
    Thanks for writing about these things. I have been following as much as I can.

    I was reading this morning...about these intellectual gifts. I was thinking that we are living in very a ademivally educated times, even regular people like me have read a little bit. How much we know!

    Then I thought of st Therese . She could be declared a doctor of the church even tho she never went to school. It because she loved so much with so much passion and so cleanly...which gave her more than an earthly education could supply.

    Another thing I was thinking about is how the gifts of the spirit are given to each one of us- for all of us."the holy spirit is given to each one of us for the good of all"...and then he goes on about the gifts ( 1 cor) . The gifts were not just intended for ourselves. We are created for communion- to share.

    Since the gifts are given to community then, I wonder sometimes how it is that I can honor those gifts in another too.

    Bless you

  2. Yes - my post today is about this to some extent. And yes, the gifts are in all of us for all of us - I think that part of it is expressed according to the particular vocation, natural gifts and supernatural charisms of each person. Hmmm.... lots to say about that, actually. Future blog post!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.